three pairs of lovers with space

SIMON RAVEN ON HIS BOYHOOD

 

            Hardback 1982

Simon Arthur Noël Raven (1927-2001) was a prolific and very successful English novelist and dramatist, who chose to promote his novels with the quote that he had “the mind of a cad and the pen of any angel.”  Well-considered paganism and contempt for the egalitarian values of post-war England lay behind his often merciless wit.

His novel that touched most on Greek love was Fielding Gray (London, 1967) , about a 17-year-old golden schoolboy hero expelled from his public school for what were known as “the usual reasons.” It was in many respects autobiographical, Raven having been also expelled from Charterhouse for an affair with another boy. 

However, it was much earlier in his own life, when he was only eleven, and perhaps beginning a year or two earlier, that his own experience of sex between man and boy occurred. This was described in both his autobiography Shadows on the Grass (1982) and confirmed in conversation with Michael Barber, who wrote a biography of him, The Captain. The Life and Times of Simon Raven (1997).

In May 1936, at the age of eight Raven had been sent to board at a prep school called Cordwalles in Camberley, Surrey.  He never had “qualms about leaving home” and described his school as “a paradise.”[1]  We begin our detailed account of his time there with his own words in Shadows on the Grass:

Simon Raven, aged 10, in 1938

Lieutenant-Colonel Killock, a married[2] man with two sons, had retired from the Indian army three or four years previously and had come to our school to teach football, rugger, PT, mathematics and English. He was extremely good at teaching all of them; he was one of the finest natural schoolmasters I ever met, a man whom one would wish above all things to please and obey as if one’s life depended on it; a firm man yet flexible and tolerant, of apparently inexhaustible good humour and good will.

He liked playing with little boys’ penises, and he did it so deftly that we positively queued up for him. He also liked letting us play with his own, an object of gratifying size, agreeable texture and startling capacity. One of his particular favourites had a tent which he put up in a remote part of the pine woods which surrounded the cricket ground; and as soon as cricket for the day was over Crawford[3] and  I would hurry through the warm pines to ‘The Tent’ (as it was known), inside which several boys, ranging in age from nine to thirteen,[4] would already be lolling about with their shorts round their ankles, exploring one another’s anatomy and waiting for the arrival of Colonel K. It was a scene of great erotic fascination, vividly memorable to this day, of Petronian power and indecency.  (Shadows on the Grass)

Raven’s biographer recounted the following conversation they had about it:

This sounded too good to be true and I put it to Simon that, at the very least, he was remembering with advantages. “You mean, Am I hiding something nasty, like buggery? The answer is no. Colonel K was a great one for fellatio but our arses didn’t interest him at all. Occasionally he would place his erection between our innocent little thighs. Nothing more.”

Very well. But wasn’t it highly unusual for small boys to be sexually aroused before puberty, let alone experience the dry orgasms he said Colonel K was able to induce?[5] Again, Simon was adamant. “I’m not making it up. Byron said the same thing happened to him when he was seduced at the age of nine by his nurse. After all, if pre-pubescent boys can have erections, what’s to stop them coming  - even if they can only manage to jerk and judder?” (The Captain, p. 27)

Simon Raven, again aged 10, in 1938

Raven’s original account of how this state of affairs ended is not included here since he later told Barber it was conjecture:

“I’ve no idea who shopped him, or why. We used to talk about it among ourselves, but we kept mum because it was so enjoyable. So my guess is that whoever spilled the beans was either goaded into it for some entirely outside reason, or else wanted to create a big red herring.” (The Captain, p. 27)

To conclude Raven’s confirmed narrative in Shadows on the Grass:

“They” made a very good job of hushing it up. The evident approach of war was cleverly exploited in order to arrange that Killock should rejoin his old regiment, which was only too pleased to have a good man back before others grabbed him. It could therefore be egregiously announced, when Colonel K did not appear among the Surrey pines next September, that he had been requested to return to military duty in India. It is a matter of record that he had a ‘good war, after which he and his wife started up a “pre-preparatory” school for boys aged between six and ten.  He must have died (which he did suddenly some fifteen years later) an exceedingly happy man.” (Shadows on the Grass)

To this, he later added, there were no consequences for the boys:

“We were not haled in and told the facts of life. We were not told to keep our mouths shut, or else. Nothing was said at all. We resumed our activities, sadly without Colonel K, and that was that. This now makes me think he probably got away with it.” (The Captain, p. 28)

Barber evidently challenged Raven over his positive account of his experiences, since he added the following:

While acknowledging that paedophilia was “not on” because it enraged so many people, “particularly proles”, Simon always maintained that far from suffering any grievous psychological damage as a result of Colonel K’s attentions, he had in fact learnt “several valuable and lasting lessons.”  (The Captain, p. 28)

[1]  Michael Barber, The Captain. The Life and Times of Simon Raven (1997), p. 25.

[2]  Happily so and with one of his sons then at Cordwalles, Raven told Barber.

[3]  Raven’s school friend.

[4]  There would not have been older boys at Cordwalles, since, at thirteen, privately-educated British boys moved from “prep school” to “public school”.

[5]   Barber’s question is an interesting indication of the appalling ignorance of the sexual development of boys on the part of highly-educated Englishmen at the end of the twentieth century. A detailed statistical study in the USA has shown that on average boys there had their first remembered sexual arousal 1.9 years before puberty, in marked contrast to girls who had it 0.7 years after puberty (Ostovich and Sabini, “Timing of Puberty and Sexuality in Men and Women” in Archives of Sexual Behaviour, Vol. 34, No. 2 (April 2005) p. 202.